September 18, 2013

Ohio man who confessed online to DUI pleads guilty

Matthew Cordle, 22, wanted to plead guilty to make good on his pledge to accept responsibility for the crash, according to his lawyers.

By Andrew Welsh-Huggins / The Associated Press

COLUMBUS, Ohio — Confronted at a hospital by police who said he'd just killed a man, drunk driver Matthew Cordle was angry and in denial.

click image to enlarge

Attorney Martin Midian, left, talks with Matthew Cordle in the Franklin County Common Pleas Court in Columbus, Ohio, on Wednesday. Cordle, who pleaded guilty to aggravated vehicular homicide, faces two to 8½ years in prison at sentencing, which was set for Oct. 10, and will also lose driving privileges for life.

AP

"He became very irate, and began yelling, he didn't kill anyone, he didn't do it, and he wasn't going to give them any blood sample," Franklin County Prosecutor Ron O'Brien said Wednesday.

Sober and in recovery, Cordle had a change of heart. He decided to plead guilty as quickly as possible, and made an online video confessing to the crime. He didn't waver from the position he took in the Sept. 3 video, and on Wednesday he made good on his pledge and pleaded guilty to aggravated vehicular homicide.

"I drank so much I was blacked out," Cordle told Franklin County Judge David Fais near the end of a 38-minute hearing.

"So I would say this was a binge drinking situation, correct, Mr. Cordle?" Fais asked.

"Yes, your honor," Cordle said.

His guilty plea came just over a week after he was indicted, light speed compared to most court cases which can drag on for weeks or months.

Sentencing was set for Oct. 10. Cordle, 22, faces two to 8½ years in prison, a $15,000 fine and loss of driving privileges for life. He also pleaded guilty to operating a vehicle under the influence of alcohol. His blood-alcohol level was more than twice the legal limit of 0.08.

In a 3½-minute video posted two weeks ago, Cordle admitted he killed a man from another Columbus suburb and said he "made a mistake" when he decided to drive that night. "My name is Matthew Cordle, and on June 22, 2013, I hit and killed Vincent Canzani," he says somberly. "This video will act as my confession."

Cordle told Fais he'd been at a series of bars near downtown Columbus and was on his way home but remembered little else.

"I have no recollection," he said, when asked if any of his friends had tried to stop him from driving. He also couldn't remember how long he'd been drinking or if he'd had anything to eat. His attorneys said he may have suffered a brain injury from a cracked skull in the accident.

Two other cars narrowly avoided involvement in the crash that night, including two women in a car who suffered minor injuries as they swerved to avoid Cordle, O'Brien said.

Cordle did not ask to be released before sentencing and the judge revoked his $255,000 bond.

Cordle received permission to give a media interview from jail Thursday with a news organization his attorneys wouldn't identify.

O'Brien said he believed Cordle's remorse in the video was genuine, but he said any further interviews would be self-serving. He also disputed Cordle's assertion in the confessional video that he could have fought the case against him, which O'Brien called "a slam dunk."

"It's nonsense to think that you can beat that case, and any lawyer that told him that was trying to get a large fee on some kind of promise," O'Brien said.

O'Brien is seeking the maximum sentence. Cordle's attorneys say they will ask for a sentence that's fair. They defended Cordle's upcoming interview, saying he wants to get his anti-drunk driving message out.

"He'll be the first person to tell you anytime you sit down and talk with Matt that this is not about him, it is about the Canzani family," defense attorney George Breitmayer said. "He's just trying to make something good come out of a terrible, terrible situation."

Canzani's daughter told a TV station last week that the attention the case has gotten is forcing her to relive what happened. Angela Canzani told WCMH-TV in Columbus that people seem to forget a person died.

The YouTube version of Cordle's video has been viewed more than two million times. It begins with Cordle's face blurred as he describes how he has struggled with depression and was simply trying to have a good time with friends going "from bar to bar" the night of the accident. He then describes how he ended up driving into oncoming traffic on Interstate 670. Cordle's face becomes clear as he reveals his name and confesses to killing Canzani.

He ends the video by pleading with viewers not to drink and drive.

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